Tuesday, April 28, 2009

using GRUB to catch Little Foot

Ha, Ha, you didn't see the orange cones when you came by did you? Good, I hoped you hadn't noticed! I was sitting here musing at the latest upgrade version of Xubuntu. I had installed version 9.04 on an empty partition. It's not a big upgrade just by looking at it, so I was in no hurry to have it. This morning before I went out on a call, I got the usual "you have program upgrades available" notice, but added to that was chance to upgrade the whole Xubuntu 8.10 to 9.04. I said why not and pushed the button. An hour and 20 minutes later the files were downloaded and installed. Some of the artwork is nicer, the performance a little snappier and when the 512MB of extra memory I ordered comes we will see more improvements. Boot-up and shutdown times seems a little faster. I am more thrilled to be up to date than having extra flash.

This latest iteration of Ubuntu is called Jaunty Jackalope. Yeah, Ubuntu names!?! A Jackalope is a legendary creature the likes of Big Foot, but more of a "little foot" in this case, not as illusive as the following picture attests. If you do see one, approach with caution or you'll be the endangered species, Ha Ha!
It was not a smooth a transition as I would have liked. Why? There is this thing called a boot loader (GRUB). And like all boot loaders, is wonderful if it is installed in the correct place. Then when you install a second OS, supposedly the software will recognize that you have or have not installed Grub. If Grub is there, it should say, Hey do you want me to up-date your already installed Grub config-file!?! Can I hear a "Yes, Please!!" You usually can have Grub installed in the MBR (Master Boot Record) or in a boot folder of your OS. Some OS's do not handle this well at all. In my case, Grub was installed in the MBR but when I installed a second OS, a second Grub was put in the new OS's boot folder and designated the place to boot from superseding Grub in the MBR. You just can't edit Grub number two and expect Grub number one to spring back into action. Sooooooooooo, I slid in the Xubuntu 9.04 live-CD and got into the CD session. From there I got into the Grub config file and tweaked until it worked. Another way is to invoke in the terminal or command line "sudo update-grub".

Remember when you had to manually mount drives? That was until someone wrote a script, then a little program to do the job. Now all Linux has auto-mount standard built-in. The same should be done for Grub. The Linux install software should have a Grub locator in it. Find Grub, fix it if it's broke, tweak the config according to what's installed. Grub tools should be on the CD so that if thats all that needs to be fixed, you can fix it. Install or find it, fix it, tweak it!

OR put a boot loader in the bios with a switch for single or multiple OS's. Then require every OS (MS, Linux or Mac) to have a boot file that the bios can see. We do this with bootable devices already (boot order). Wow, all my problems seems to have gone away!

Why would anyone want or need more than one Linux OS on his/her computer, you ask????
Except for curiosity, I can't answer that. Normally you shouldn't encounter this unless you insist on dual-booting. Just remember to install WIN before LIN and if you are installing LIN and LIN, opt out of installing Grub a second time if you can.

Oh and my 512 MB did come and things are snappier yet. I'll tell you in a week if things of the normal use are truly better.

Monday, April 27, 2009

"are we there yet?"

Have you ever seen that movie with the rapper "Icecube" called "Are we there yet!?!" It's got a Swedish handyman the likes of "Mr. Hanny" on "Green Acres". Being a Linuxville guide is like that. Just about everything in town, I can do, learn to do, or direct you to who can do, given enough notice. Hey, I've got the scars to prove it! Linuxville is a pretty diverse place, I live among the Ubuntu and am rather fond of XFCE as my desktop of choice (Xubuntu).

You want to know so much more than I can tell you, you want me to explain every reason and nuance and condense the whole of Linux into a few sound bytes...........impossible. Here is what I did. I read about Linux on various sites to get a handle (never quite clear!). Then I went to http://www.ubuntu.com and downloaded the appropriate .iso file, burned the CD. And just so I could have the official CD, I ordered the free CD too. AOL had free CD's also, if you remember, only when you ran them, you got stuff you didn't expect installed on your computer. Now with Linux (any flavor), you only get the software you asked for. Put the CD into your machine but instead of trying to run a file from MS Windows, restart or reboot your system, so that your computer boots from the CD instead of your hard drive with MS Windows on it. And then you will be asked to run it without installation or to install it. Linux will run off the CD, not install anything on your machine and when you shut it down will quit without a trace. While it is running, you can see what it comes with, how it works, what it looks like and if all your hardware responds. This answers all those questions you were going to pelt me with. Close your mouth before you ask, how they can offer this for free........ please. The catch, it's not a Mac, not MS, it's Linux!!

The live-CD of Ubuntu is wonderful, no time limit, no secret codes, no disabled features, what you see is what you get. The live-CD is the basic system, once you install it, you have access to change it, add to it, tweak it. And like I said, if you are not sure about installing, you now have a Linux live-CD you can play with anytime your curiosity gets stirred. If you want you could never install it yet use it and save files to your jump drive!! Now that's awesome!!

Aside from all the neat web sites you can google, there is one magazine you can download in .pdf format that is superb, Full Circle Magazine. The link is, http://www.fullcirclemagazine.org/ and of course, it is about Ubuntu. In the latest issue there is another interesting link for you social types, http://myubuntu.ning.com. This is on top of all the forums and news pages. If you got an inkling of the artist gene, check out http://www.linuxgraphicsusers.com. You will not be turned away. If you are a document maker Open Office is the name and for tips check out http://openoffice.blogs.com/openoffice/.

I felt much separation anxiety until I visited http://www.webi.org/ and http://www.schoolforge.net/ and said these run on Linux or MS. Then after a bout of "what about" I visited http://www.linuxalt.com/ and http://wiki.linuxquestions.org/wiki/Linux_software_equivalent_to_Windows_software, to realize there is a chance I may not even need MS at all. The clincher was when I could output documents in MS file formats if I had to and I could read them and convert them, all without a single MS boot-up. My one MS machine probably gets turned on once every other week, if that.

I am completely happy in Linuxville except for the GUI unrest between the KDE and Gnome crews. XFCE uses the same libraries, tools as Gnome yet has managed to avoid headlines. If lower resource use is a must, XFCE is the way to go, but there are desktops that are even leaner if you need them. XFCE provides a good mix of functionality and lightness. My realization goes like this, an older machine is fine but the cost of adding memory to them has not gone down. If you have 512 MB Linux will not give any hesitation on the desktop. Less memory might require you seek lightness. I just ordered another 512 MB for my newer machine. That will give me 1 gig (1024 MB) of memory and a better performing machine. I could install KDE or Gnome, which do work in 512 MB, but I won't, XFCE works just fine. Yeah, I'm there!!!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

coming to appreciate "what if's"

Henry Ford's famous "any color as long as it's black" or one size fits all, can not be applied to Linux. "We did the research for you, compiled the best out there and present to you the best product available", can not be applied to Linux. The many hands and eyes that have shaped Linux have always said "what if". So, in the car realm, cars have the looks they are known by. A shape, a grille, a logo, a style, a cost and a reputation produced by ones who bought it.

Human psychology is strange, some will emphasize a particular virtue to the exclusion or downplaying of others. I am finding I am like this (I can't escape either!) about computers. The secret, the one you are presently using is always better. And even though you are putting up with annoyances, at least you know what to expect. Some just buy it and use it, are oblivious to pain.

Linuxville, the land of what if. You design a GUI (graphical user interface), everybody loves it, plays with it, but in the back of their mind they say what if. They make another GUI, not to supersede yours, just different. Maybe it's different tools used to code it, or a different programming language or the interactions of user and graphics are different. Maybe it's simpler or more robust. Eventually there are GUI's for a number of kinds of computer users, with features certain groups of users appreciate. So, here's the Linux dilemma, it is hard to nail down a comprehensive best GUI the same way as you can with a product. With a product, everybody uses it, good, bad or ugly. With Linux, somebody will change it, the pool of "everybody" is smaller or happier using something else.

In Linuxville some will swear by KDE, some by Gnome, me I like XFCE. It is almost too bad that GUI's are not entirely separated and placed on top of the operating system. A certain level of integration insures internal cooperation, I'm sure. Maybe that is a future what if, OS selector and boot loader in ROM, GUI as a customizable personality plug-in and the operating system to manage the hardware and file system. But in general there is much heat between KDE and Gnome camps and has been for years now. It's funny how you could make them look like each other at times or make them seem like XP or Macs. All the nuances and differences are points of contention because we think somebody's got to win, to be on top, to be "thee Linux GUI."

The GUI is what identifies the operating system for the user.
A "look" makes a thing recognizable and implies a certain "feel" is behind the looks, a thing called familiarity. When you like something you want it to go on forever. You hope that later iterations, revisions, recoding, revamping and security upgrades, will never destroy the look and feel you have come to love. Sometimes improvements and innovations require us to sacrifice familiarity. We try other things because the look and feel is not the same as it was, or we need to try something fresh. So the GUI of choice for me is XFCE.

Is the GUI on the other Linux desktop greener?
I have tried different Linux distributions based on their GUI's and based on their packaging systems. Different Linux distros look and feel the exact same due to having the same GUI. Xubuntu (Ubuntu), Fedora (Red Hat) and Wolvix (Slackware) look and feel the exact same under XFCE. They will still be the same if they all had Gnome or KDE. Don't ask which distro has the best GUI, ask which GUI is coolest, then which distro exploits it best?

I have also tried Linux distributions based on the packaging systems. It is more accurate to say based on what is behind the packaging systems. That is the completeness of the pre-compiled, ready to install program inventory stored in the user accessed "repositories". In distributions with the Debian or .deb packaging, there is a reputation of having the most up to date collections with the most recent revisions. Distributions sporting the Red Hat Packaging Management or .rpm packaging, come in second at least by my reading. The oldest, Tarball or .tgz packaging (like a zip file) used by Slackware and others seem slow on the uptake. If you are prone to compile software yourself if you need to, it does not matter which packaging you use. But I have never wanted to compile or needed to because I have found all of what I need already compiled, ready to install in the .deb repositories of my chosen distribution.

Arnold, what are you saying?? I am saying that in Linuxville, you can simply use what's here and when the "what if" bubble gets attached to your thought processes, you can always do something about it. Linux is not a single product of a company's experts, yet there are some experts among us. We all get to put our two cents in on some level and some love to get in on development projects. You don't have to be an employee or work with Delbert. And figuring out which Linux is not that hard, your Linuxville guide (in various modes) is here to help.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

what did you expect from Linux?

Not a very exciting typical day, eh? What did you expect, Mission Impossible music, hard drives smoking' " I disavow any knowledge of what happens to your PC". Believe me, when nothing happens, this is normal, you can use your computer to do stuff other than worry and fix it. And because I have a lot of these normal days in Linuxville, I have to have other interest to fill the time. Like.............

Figuring out the genius of art dabbling. You know one of the problems of our society is that we turn everything into a profession. In the process something is lost to many. In the art world, all the skills and techniques have been turned into a scientific method. Design itself can be taught because it has been formulated into exact principles. Of course one has to discover the truth of these things for themselves, but much laud is given for having been trained, not much if any for fumbling and dabbling with the inner senses. The final result is over trained to where these either get a job or seclude themselves to rediscover their artist sensibilities overshadowed by the years of training.

Come on, I've seen it. Hey you've got talent, why don't you go to school. Artists only need to improve their skills to better do what they are doing already. But to get trained to be a commercial artist is a different thing altogether. You are broadened to where you can do anything, everything. If a job focuses your work that is OK, but if your intent is to not be commercial, you have to rediscover your voice through all this stuff. You must relearn to trust your own vision. How do you show yourself through the added layers of stuff you learned.

I am going through this process. I went to school, took some classes, amassed some skills. In the mean time things changed, computers became useful for art. Now how do I turn my brush/pen into a mouse with the same spontaneity and finesse. How do I trust the monitor/display or the printer's output? And why is my work on this computer thing not valued the same as in other media?

I am going through the art process, it is not easy, there is no click, click, click and it's done. But I will admit, if I don't like the work, I can change it, delete it, sample from it for reuse, and make multiples and reproduce it. The do or die approach of the one time execution of an art work has been ended for ever. An oil painting might be a one hit original, computer output or photos, can be reproduced again and again, each an original because of the string of formatted 1's and 0's (a digital file). What is the value of a copy? The digital file can be copied, where is the means to make it rare, thus of value. Now, do you buy art because it is rare and of a famous artist (and of value because of it) or because you like the work?? Perhaps, there needs to be a different kind of value psychology for this digital art, not based on rarity because you can copy it, but on is it good art. Do you like it!!

There are many kinds of digital art, like art that is so realistic to fantasy art, comics and game art. Digital art could be photographic or obviously mimicking traditional art medias. Then onward to animation film art, cartoons and special effects. Much of ad graphics today is digital, signage, technical illustration and engineering drawing. Then on top of this some digital art never leaves the screen like wallpapers, screensavers, interface art, icons and some is meant to be printed out as pictures, photos or placed on products from quilts to business cards and billboards.

Digital dabbling is casual art. You have time to appreciate and enjoy and try stuff. And because we are often consumed with other things, time to dabble is all that's left. And it does not matter if the software is not "what the professionals use", so why spend $400 just to dabble?? I like to insist people try the GIMP because it is free, but there are other applications that push pixels around the screen. If you get well versed in some unfamiliar software package, does that make your work, not art?. If a guy can pluck his own hair to make a brush and paint a so-called masterpiece, do you think a $75 custom brush will make you a better artist? It is about making the tools, any tools, work for you. The tools that are available and convenient for you to acquire I consider your home court advantage. If all you can see is Photoshop, I hope you can put in the time to make it worth the expense. Besides, it doesn't run natively or well in Linux, thus I'm not so concerned.

The main argument I have heard against the GIMP was that it didn't have a CMS (color management system) or color separation tools needed by the large commercial printing systems. These tools I believe can be added or are provided by other software. These days and especially for art work the typical RGB color system used on all desktop monitors and printers can do wonderful work. Printers will do photo size 4" x 6" all the way to 52" wide using inkjet technology. If course there are technophobes who fuss with quality to the nth, but if precision and perfection is your obsession, will the cost of the final output satisfy the client who just wants something they like? I say, do a check print, tweak it, print it again, if it is OK, you win.

The Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt that has been applied to user's minds to keep them from looking at Linux is continuously being eroded away. I experience new things often that I would not have attempted in MS XP for the risk or things I couldn't afford to do. I remains that I will not insist on Linux as the all-solution, but if you try it at my suggestion and like it, I am greatly gratified. You have made the first steps into a larger world. Welcome to Linuxville!!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

a day in the life in Linuxville

I fire up my PC and put on my pants like everyone else, the wait is not too bad ( some are soooooo impatient!). PCs are not like light switches, if you want instant on, don't turn them off. The boot process insures your system is "all" working.

I get a brief balloon that says I'm able to connect to the net. I start doing something and in the notification bar an icon tells me I got system updates. I click it and a window opens showing each update, a brief description and a check box for each one, in case I don't want them. I let it run and can move to another desktop if I choose to.

On my MS PC if I want to add software, I have to find/know where it is on the net or have a disk. Then I have to hope and trust they haven't included spam, malware, adware and other stuff. With Linux, most available software is in a secure online repository. You access this repository via an add/remove program called Synaptic. You can search by program type and you get a brief description. Of course if you absolutely don't know what a program is you can "google it".
Also there are ways to install stuff outside of Synaptic if you have too. Because it is a repository (sort of like FTP), you only get the software you ask for, period. And if the software won't run on your type of PC (32 bit, 64 bit), it will tell you. Also if other software is required (dependencies) it will find them and que them for install them for you, but it will tell you what they are. The repository system is very practical because software is written in a basic code then compiled to run on various hardware. You can get the source code to compile it yourself or get the pre-compiled ready to install and run on your machine software.

User logic says, I just do it without thinking, oh wait, there's details, now I'm worried, what are they, should I be concerned, what do I do now? We do this a couple of times, once we see what it is all about we go back to doing without much thinking. This is normal. See, feel, fuss, understand.......it's all in the process. Once in a while we get a kink and need to be rebooted! Ha! Ha!

The most used apps, web browsers and email, cause we like probing the far reaches and getting stuff. This is universal. And when I'm not working or blogging I use GIMP and Inkscape to dabble. I was in love with digital dabbling since I saw the first Macintosh and went, ooooooooh!
Mouse mashing and digital dabbling are unofficial open source technical terms you may use without fear of user agreements, DRM, or copyright infringement.

One thing I listen to all the time is Mac and MS Windows users who cross over to Linux bringing their baggage with them. This is normal, you can't help comparing what you are used to with what you are now getting. These users are so intelligent they forget "familiarity breeds contempt". If you've honed your skills on something else, something new is gonna sting. No pain, no gain is true in computing. Some even learn to expand their skill set by dual booting. Well, it is said we only use 10% of our brains, Linux might push that to 11%. And with your added brain power you could consider yourself savvy.

One of my other favorite activities is YouTube videos. Video tutorials, screencast and live music (especially jazz) is the new school. If you want to learn something without college tuition, this is the way. Linux has a number of media players, mine is called VLC.

People who focus on the operating system are prone to complain about it. This is true for any OS. The inventor of Linux said the OS should be invisible, doing its job in the background. Users who realize this are blessed because all you need to do is click the mouse when necessary, type when necessary. Once all the installing and setup is over the OS is the application launcher and resource manager, point and click already. As I have said before users only care about the applications, can they do the job? Linux is reliable and stable. Not many system crashes in my Linux life. And when it does crash or freeze a Ctrl-Alt-Backspace combo closes you down back to the login prompt. Linux is rather self healing and forgiving. I never had to defrag or do major housekeeping to speed it up degrading performance. You can shut it down abruptly with less danger than on MS machines. But let me emphasize, do not rush booting or shutting down if you want your system to stay stable. Just as it checks if the systems are up, it checks if systems are shut down.

And when the day is done I hang up my penguin guise and ease into the alternate universe.

Friday, April 03, 2009

puttin on the TUX

As you all know, I've been picking at the user psychology and all the subtle inside feelings and mental wrestlings of making home in Linuxville. Easy for some, extremely hard for others. In this installment I present further propaganda, a photo of the whole country of Linuxville.........

Yeah, I am in there just left of center, wearing the black and white outfit, shades and waving.

In the technology realm, quite a lot depends on the hardware and I've been hammering you all with the display-less laptop as a desktop replacement. There have been many very inventive, even innovative computer configurations in the past few years, a few are making it into the marketplace. The shift in user preference is slow and entry prices for new hardware concepts are steep. But in this tight budget economy perhaps newness just requires incremental steps instead of huge leaps of techno-faith. I give you guitars as an example.........

Top left we have the classical guitar, next Les Paul (today's standard), then an attempt to fulfill every guitar players dream (to play it all). On the bottom is the Chapman Stick. If you haven't heard of Emmit Chapman's Stick, go get your Google search working. Guitars go step by step and the GUI part is the same. So in computers I want something next step like, not radical and pricey. The standard case PC is being over taken by laptops, but the portability aspect is over played. Full-sized keyboard comfort yet laptop technology and oh man, that detached display is the way to go. I really don't have to carry a computer everywhere I go, or want to.

Hey! Don't force me to use car examples! OK! As much as I admire foreign cars here in America, they did not make sense until they made a mid-size car. This is because we like roominess not tight and efficient cars. We also don't all like aerodynamic shapes and so while going back and forth between truck profiles and bullet-like sports cars the cross-over hybrid van like sedan became very popular. I my self like that Dodge Caliber, not too small or too big, it looks like it has muscles and carries people without folding them first. And 30 mpg is not bad either, that's better than my present Chevy.

So, why would you play a Chapman Stick when everybody understands a regular guitar? The creative avenues are wide open. It is the same with Linux, the creative avenues are wide open. You can do the same old stuff and/or go beyond, take the next step.

Speaking of creative avenues, will someone please inform the library folks that the 30+ Photoshop books in the computer section and the 30+ Photoshop books in the photography section are all about the same thing, Photoshop. And the books on computer illustration, drawing and painting are few if any. Libraries should be getting books to help folks learn stuff, not books by professionals selling glorified portfolios. GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program is free and useful for any computer art/photo work and by everyone. Learning GIMP is no harder than Photoshop or any other artist software. GIMP being free makes it accessible to everyone just like library books themselves. If I had to pay to get into the library, I would save my money. Why a library would have 60+ Photoshop books and no GIMP books is madness and ignorance.

The above expression of disillusioned rage is typical among Linux fans who enjoy the comfort of holding a printed book on Linux or Open Source Software subjects. If it were not for internet info sites, we'd be out in mass, looking much like the first picture in this post.